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Physics Nonacademic jobs for astrophysics?

  1. Aug 20, 2009 #1
    I know that its very hard to get tenure even if you get a phD in astrophysics from an Ivy league school. hence, alot of astrophysics phDs find jobs in government labs, wall street, or as engineers. but how likely is it to find employment as a engineer where you get to work on CFD?

    My background: i plan on getting my BA in physics and BS in applied math by december 09. I've done an REU in statistical/solid-state physics and research in materials modeling. I am hesitant to apply to grad schools this fall and I'm having difficulty deciding what field I should be directing my effort towards. I would say my favorite physics class covered statistical mechanics and thermo, but i havent taken the upper-div version of it yet. other than that, i enjoyed quantum more than classical mech and E&M

    Computational simulation of physical systems sounds interesting to me. I don't think that computer science is the way I wish to go. I am interested in the theoretic side of the actual problems, not the most efficient way to code

    I'm looking mostly towards CFD or astrophysics. CFD in ME sounds enticing since if i get my MS or phD in it, i shouldnt have a problem finding jobs in the defense industry and making decent money. this probably sounds lame, but working on rockets and missiles sounds interesting based on my experience with playing video games. however, i've always been kind of interested in the universe and such, so astrophysics has interested me as well. unfortunately, i didnt get to take any astro classes or do research in it

    So what i'm asking is what field i should pursue in grad school? also, if i should choose astrophysics, how likely is it that i can find employment as an engineer working on CFD for defense instead of stuff like antennas?
    Last edited: Aug 20, 2009
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 20, 2009 #2


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    I'm new to the forums but from what I've been reading, you need some type of programming skill in C++ if you want a job in the private sector.
  4. Aug 20, 2009 #3
    i already took a class in c++, and learned MATLAB from my summer internship
  5. Aug 20, 2009 #4


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    I'm not the best person to ask. Just trying to help out since you didn't get an answer yet.:biggrin:
  6. Sep 18, 2009 #5
    bump cuz I'm interested, too.
  7. Sep 19, 2009 #6
    CFD jobs in defense are pretty common. If you are interested in missiles, look up a kind of CFD known as hydrocodes. Hydrocodes are used to model explosions.

    Astrophysics is probably not the typical degree they are looking for. Mechanical engineering, aerospace engineering, one can even get degrees in CFD. Physics is not uncommon, but one might have a little explaining to do with a degree in Astrophysics. Not impossible, but harder.
  8. Oct 9, 2009 #7
    Astrophysical CFD skills are useful in investment banking. The computer models are somewhat different, but someone that is good with CFD and knows C++ will probably be in demand assuming that the financial industry doesn't complete crater over the next few years.
  9. Oct 3, 2010 #8
    So its pretty common for physics phD's to do CFD in defense? How much harder is it for astrophysics? I'd imagine it'd be much harder just trying to get pass the keyword filters that HR and online systems use to look for engineering degrees.
    Last edited: Oct 3, 2010
  10. Oct 3, 2010 #9
    I would say that most of the hydrocodes in defense were developed by astrophysicists, I don't know if that translates into most astrophysicists doing CFD in defense.

    An astrophysics PhD + programming skills probably means you aren't going to starve.
  11. Oct 4, 2010 #10
    yeah I know, but if I get an astrophysics phD, I want to get a job that involves more than just plain programming or software engineering. I was hoping for some job that could involve some physics, and hopefully in the aerospace/defense industry. So I was hoping it'd be possible to work on CFD for defense purposes with an astrophysics background
  12. Oct 4, 2010 #11
    Depends on the job. If you work at a national lab like Los Alamos, then anyone without a Ph.D. will get screened out in the first pass. People with astrophysics Ph.D.'s tend not to work on developing the missiles, but rather focus on working on making sure that thing on top of the missile, works.

    Also, putting "physics Ph.D." will get up passed a lot of keyword filters.
  13. Oct 4, 2010 #12
    Hydrocodes (and most CFD/FEA tools) really fall into the world of modeling rather than programming or software. There are some jobs that involve just the development of these tools, but most people are using these numerical tools to solve real problems. What your PhD is really good for is communicating "I can create or modify the tool if I need to solve a problem that has not been solved before".
  14. Oct 4, 2010 #13
    Thing on top of the missile? I'm not sure about all the components of a missile, but isn't that the GNC section? I'd rather use the hydrocodes

    Well thats good, because I would like to use those tools to solve problems.
  15. Oct 4, 2010 #14
    I'm talking about the part of the ICBM that goes boom. Pretty much all of the people that design hydrogen bombs are Ph.D. physicists, and there is a very large fraction of astrophysicists among them.
  16. Oct 5, 2010 #15
    I was first exposed to hydrocodes when I interviewed for a position designing the warhead on the Tomahawk cruise missile. The pointy end, as they say.
  17. Oct 5, 2010 #16
    what area of physics did you get your phD in? You had prior experience with CFD, right?
  18. Oct 5, 2010 #17
    I don't have a PhD. The company I was interviewing with was going to train me in the use of hydrocodes, but I had experience with C, FORTRAN, Java, and MATLAB already at that point. It was fairly common for folks working in that area to end up with at least a masters in CFD.
  19. Oct 5, 2010 #18
    So you have a MS in physics? So if the people there had no prior background in fluids or CFD, they could still work on the hydrocodes if they had background with lots of different programming languages like you?
  20. Oct 5, 2010 #19
    I should have been more specific. I actually have a mere BS in Physics. I am sure the programming experience helped, but my overall academic record is strong in math and physics, and my alma mater has a long-running relationship with the company that interviewed me. I am sure a real programmer would laugh at my coding skills, but I know enough to do what I need to do, and I can learn what I need to know. Conveying *that* impression is worth a lot.
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